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Re-ranking the 2007 recruiting class

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July’s live recruiting period, the last of its kind, just finished up, meaning that the Class of 2019 have fully had a chance to prove themselves to the recruiters and the recruitniks around the country.

Scholarships were earned and rankings were justified over the course of those three weekends, but scholarship offers and rankings don’t always tell us who the best players in a given class will end up being.

Ask Steph Curry.

Over the course of the coming weeks, we will be re-ranking eight recruiting classes, from 2007-2014, based on what they have done throughout their post-high school career. 

Here are the 25 best players from the Class of 2007, with their final Rivals Top 150 ranking in parentheses:

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1. JAMES HARDEN (11)

The Beard has gone from being an incredibly productive two-year player at Arizona State to the Sixth Man of the Year as a third-year pro to the MVP of the NBA this past season. In six seasons since leaving Oklahoma City, Harden has yet to average under 25.4 points, 5.8 assists and 4.7 boards. Last season, he averaged 30.4 points. The year before that, he averaged 11.2 assists. And if it wasn’t for Chris Paul’s hamstring injury in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals — or Houston missing 27 straight threes in Game 7 — his Houston Rocket team would have been the team to dethrone Golden State.

Harden is arguably the best player in the NBA not named LeBron or Durant. Not only that, he has helped reinvent the way basketball is played in the pace-and-space era.

2. DERRICK ROSE (3)

As hard as this may be to believe, Derrick Rose does not turn 30 years old for another two months. It’s easy to forget that, at the time of his first knee injury all the way back in the 2011-12 season, he was just 23 years old, coming off of a year where he was the youngest player in NBA history to win the MVP award. The Chicago-native had led the Bulls to the No. 1 seed in the East, falling in five games to the first iteration of LeBron’s Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Rose could have been one of the best to ever play the game had his body held up. He will always be one of basketball’s great ‘what-ifs?’

3. KEVIN LOVE (6)

It’s easy to forget that, before Love arrived in Cleveland, before he had to cede much of his production to play alongside LeBron and Kyrie Irving, that Love was a 25-year old three-time all-star that was coming off a season where he was named second-team all-NBA when he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 boards and 4.4 assists. The third option on the LeBron superteams (Love and Chris Bosh) has been the one to make the biggest sacrifice, but it’s inarguable that part of the reason Cleveland could be called a superteam the last four seasons was his presence on the roster. Love has turned into something of a laughing-stock in recent seasons, but I’d guess it was worth it for that 2016 title and three other trips to the NBA Finals.

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4. BLAKE GRIFFIN (23)

Griffin passed up the chance to be a top ten pick in the 2008 NBA Draft to return to school for his sophomore season, where he won the National Player of the Year award and was the first pick the following season. He missed his first year in the NBA, but since then has been one of the best power forwards in the game, adapting the way he plays to fit the modern NBA. He averaged 12.1 boards as a rookie and has won an NBA Dunk Contest, and this past season h dished out a career-high 5.8 assists per game while shooting 34.5 percent from three on more than five attempts per game.

5. ERIC GORDON (2)

Gordon has never made an all-star game, has only played more than 70 games twice in ten years and, at this point in his career, is a part-time starter for the Houston Rockets, but he’s made a lucrative career out of being a big-time scorer that can shoot the rock. Over the course of ten seasons, he’s averaged 16.7 points and shot 37.6 percent from three.

6. DEANDRE JORDON (8)

The last of a dying breed, Jordan’s career got off to a slow start — he was a second round pick that came off the bench for two seasons — but he’s since turned into a workhorse and one of the best defensive centers in the league. He’s twice led the NBA in rebounding, he’s been a first-team all-defensive player twice, first team All-NBA once and he made a killing out of being the finisher in Chris Paul pick-and-rolls. He’s also made just a single three-pointer in ten seasons. Will we ever see another DeAndre Jordan?

(Harry How/Getty Images)

7. JEFF TEAGUE (57)

Since breaking into Atlanta’s starting lineup during the 2011-12 season, Teague has grown into being one of the more consistent point guards in the league. He’s only made one all-star team, but in the last six seasons, he’s never averaged less than 14.2 points and 5.9 assists.

8. CHANDLER PARSONS (19)

A series of injuries over the course of the last two seasons have turned Parsons into one of the worst contracts in the NBA. He’s owed nearly $50 million by Memphis over the next two seasons, which makes it easy to forget that, prior to signing that contract, Parsons had averaged 15.4 points, 5.2 boards and 3.2 assists while shooting 38.5 percent from three over the course of four seasons.

9. KENNETH FARIED (UR)

Age and injuries have taken their toll on Faried, as has his inability to shoot in a league that you need to be able to shoot, but there was a five-year stretch where the Morehead State product averaged double-figures and better than eight rebounds a night. He was a starter and a useful piece on a playoff team. Not bad for a player who only had one offer coming out of Newark.

10. MICHAEL BEASLEY (1)

Beasley has had such a fascinating career. After putting up gargantuan numbers in one season at Kansas State, many expected him to develop into a star in the NBA. That didn’t happen, although he did average 19.2 points during his second season in the league. That said, he is now in year 11 as an NBA player, coming off a season where he played 74 games and averaged 13.2 points for the Knicks and heading out to LA to team up with LeBron. Throw in career earnings that will top $40 million by the end of this season, and all-in-all, things could have been much worse for Super Cool Beas.

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11. JAMES JOHNSON (62)

Along with being the one guy in the NBA that you should never, ever get in a fight with, Johnson has managed to carve out a ten-year career for himself. He bounced around the NBA for the first five years of his career before finding a role in Toronto in 2014. He’s had the two-best seasons of his career in the last two years in Miami, including this past season, where he averaged 10.8 points, 4.9 boards and 3.8 assists.

12. EVAN TURNER (49)

Turner had a three-year career at Ohio State that culminated in sharing Player of the Year honors with John Wall as a junior, which jettisoned him to the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He never quite lived up to the hype — he was averaged 17.4 points, 6.0 boards and 3.7 assists when he was traded from a tanking Philly team to come off the bench for the Pacers in 2014 — but has posted 10.2 points, 4.8 boards and 3.5 assists in an eight-year (and counting) career that will earn him at least $98 million.

13. PATRICK PATTERSON (17)

Patterson has only averaged double-figures once in his eight-year career, but he’s developed into a pretty decent veteran big man, and still a fairly-useful piece. He’s never been much more than a borderline starter in the NBA, but he’s 6-foot-9 and he can still rebound and made threes.

14. O.J. MAYO (4)

The hype that Mayo had coming out of high school was on another level, and his “recruitment” to USC is the stuff of legends. He entered the NBA in 2008 with Memphis, averaging 18.5 points as a rookie, but it’s been all downhill from there. He’s never mae an all-star team, he’s never bettered his rookie season numbers and he’s been out of the NBA since 2016 following a positive drug test.

15. JERRYD BAYLESS (13)

After one season at Arizona where he 19.7 points, Bayless has built himself a 10-year NBA career out of being an offensive sparkplug off the bench. Currently, he’s a part-time starter and one of the first guards off the bench for the 76ers.

16. J.J. HICKSON (10)

Hickson was actually a pretty productive player in the league for a few years, topping out during the 2012-13 season, when he averaged 12.7 points and 10.4 boards for Portland. It’s been all downhill since then, as he was out of the NBA by 2016, spent two years in China and, just this summer, was arrested for attempted armed robbery in Georgia.

(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

17. E’TWUAN MOORE (35)

It took awhile for Moore to get where he is, but after spending the first five years of his career bouncing around the league, he’s found a home in New Orleans. This past season, he started 80 games for the Pelicans, averaging 12.5 points and 2.3 assists while shooting 42.3 percent from three.

18. JUSTIN HOLIDAY (83)

One of three Holiday brothers currently in the NBA, Justin had just nine games in one season of NBA player under his belt in 2014 when, at 25 years old, he signed with the Warriors. But in the last four years, he’s carved out a career for himself, highlighted by this past year, where he started 72 games for the Bulls while averaging 12.2 points.

19. NICK CALATHES (14)

Calathes has played just two seasons in the NBA, but he’s a dual-citizen of Greece and has had a decorated, successful and profitable career playing for the Greek club Panathinaikos.

20. ANTHONY RANDOLPH (12)

Like Calathes, Randolph has turned what could be viewed as an NBA failure into a tremendous amount of success overseas. He played in the league for five years, but has been doing nothing but winning trophies over in Europe. He won Eurobasket playing alongside Luke Doncic and Goran Dragic with the Slovenian national team, and cut down the nets with Real Madrid in the Euroleague this past spring.

21. KYLE SINGLER (5)

Singler was an all-american and a national champion with the Duke Blue Devils before getting drafted by the Pistons in the second round in 2011. He lasted three years with Detroit as a starter before heading to Oklahoma City, where he is still on the roster, playing minimal minutes.

22. MIKE SCOTT (115)

Like Singler, Scott didn’t play an NBA game until the 2012-13 season, but he carved out a career for himself as a bench player for the Atlanta Hawks for five seasons. Last year, he played 76 games and averaged 8.8 points off the bench for the Wizards.

23. KOSTA KOUFOS (16)

Believe it or not, Koufos is still in the NBA. The former one-and-done center from Ohio State has played for five teams in his ten-year career, but he’s heading into his fourth season in Sacramento, where he’s averaged 73 games the last three years, starting 89 of them.

24. JON LEUER (82)

The former all-american at Wisconsin has managed to put together a seven-year career in the NBA. He played just eight games last season, but in 2016-17, he averaged a career-high 10.2 points for the Detroit Pistons.

25. NOLAN SMITH (39)

Smith shared National Player of the year awards with Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker in 2011, a year after he won a national title with Duke, and went on to get drafted in the first round by the Portland Trailblazers before his career was sent off the rails by a torn ACL.

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FIVE NOTABLES THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE TOP 25

BILL WALKER (7)

Walker was a high school teammate of O.J. Mayo who ended up enrolling at Kansas State in middle of the 2006-07 season after it was determined that he had already used up his high school eligibility. He would tear an ACL for the second time that season before averaging 16.8 points as a sophomore alongside Michael Beasley. He played parts of five seasons in the NBA, and is currently going by the name Henry Walker while playing in the Phillipines.

DONTE GREENE (9)

Greene played just one season at Syracuse before heading to the NBA, where he was a late first round pick. He lasted four years in the league and has since bounced around the world, playing everywhere from Saudi Arabia to China to Lebanon to the Dominican Republic.

JONNY FLYNN (22)

Best-known as “the guy taken before Stephen Curry”, the former No. 6 pick in the NBA draft played just three seasons in the NBA before heading overseas. Best I can tell, he’s been out of basketball since 2014.

NORRIS COLE (UR)

Cole was a star at Cleveland State before getting picked in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft. He played for three years with LeBron and Dwyane Wade in Miami, a valuable role player that earned himself a pair of rings. His best seasons came in 2015-16, when he averaged 10.6 points and 3.7 assists with the Pelicans.

JACOB PULLEN (UR)

One of my favorite players in the college rankings since I started doing this, so I’m throwing his name in here. He was on a two-way contract with the 76ers last year.

Ten mid-majors that can be the next Loyola-Chicago

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In each of the last five NCAA tournaments, there’s been at least one double-digit seeded mid-major that’s managed to advance.

The 2013 NCAA tournament boasted two such teams, 14-seed Harvard and a 15-seed in FGCU, that became national darlings over the course of the opening weekend.

Since then there have been repeat winners (Harvard won as a 12-seed in 2015, and Middle Tennessee advanced in both 2016 and 2017), and Loyola-Chicago reached the 2018 Final Four as an 11-seed.

What traits do these teams tend to have in common?

In many cases experience is key, be it from winning an NCAA tournament game the season prior or bringing back many experienced pieces (or both).

And for some teams, the presence of a star player has been the key.

Below is a look at ten teams that could pull off at least one upset in next spring’s NCAA tournament.

NOTE: For this post the following conferences (and teams) are not under consideration: ACC, American, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC, as well as BYU and Gonzaga.

Dan D’Antoni of Marshall (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

Loyola-Chicago

As noted above the Ramblers reached the program’s first Final Four since 1963 last season, knocking off Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State on the way to San Antonio. Porter Moser will have to account for the loss of two double-digit scorers (Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson) and the Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year (Ben Richardson) from that team, but reigning Valley Player of the Year Clayton Custer is back as are fellow starters Marques Townes and Cameron Krutwig.

Sophomore Lucas Williamson and junior Bruno Skokna will need to take a step forward after serving as supplementary options last season, but the Ramblers’ ability to defend and share the ball on the other end of the floor should serve them well. Will it be enough to cause some mayhem in the NCAA tournament for a second straight year? That’s the question, especially with their top challengers in the Valley having improved.

Buffalo

Nate Oats’ Bulls dominated Arizona in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament, shooting nearly 55 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the 89-68 beating in Boise. Three starters from that team, guards CJ Massinburg, Jeremy Harris and Davonta Jordan, return as do valuable reserves Nick Perkins and Dontay Carruthers. Buffalo will have to account for the loss of Wes Clark, who was third on the team in scoring and first in assists, and forward Ikenna Smart, but there’s more than enough talent to get the job done. In addition to the returnees, Buffalo adds freshmen Ronaldo Segu and Jeenathan Williams to the mix. Not only does Buffalo have the tools needed to win an NCAA tournament game for the second consecutive season, but it could go beyond that in 2019.

Marshall

Marshall’s style of play made the Thundering Herd an entertaining team to watch last season, and with the tandem of Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks back on campus for one last hurrah expect more of the same in 2018-19. Elmore and Burks combined to score an average of 42.8 points per game, with the former also responsible for 6.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds per contest. Dan D’Antoni did lose his best front court player from the team that knocked off Wichita State in Adjin Penava, who averaged 15.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game.

Penava’s departure that means players such as sophomore Jansson Williams and Darius George and juniors Mike Beyers Ante Sustic will need to step forward. That being said the backcourt rotation, which in addition to Elmore and Burks includes the likes of Rondale Watson and Jarrod West (both averaged 7.8 ppg last season), is talented enough to cause some chaos in the NCAA tournament yet again. That being said Marshall won’t lack for challengers within Conference USA, one being Western Kentucky.

Mike Daum (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

HIGH-LEVEL STAR

South Dakota State

Three of South Dakota State’s top four scorers from last season’s NCAA tournament team are back, with the leader of that bunch being one of the nation’s best scorers in senior forward Mike Daum (23.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg). “The Dauminator,” who’s won the last two Summit League Player of the Year awards, is on pace to become the ninth 3,000-point scorer in Division I history, and his ability to score from anywhere on the court (46.2 percent FG, 42.5 percent 3PT, 85.1 percent FT) makes the 6-foot-9 forward an extremely difficult matchup for opponents.

Sophomore David Jenkins Jr., the Summit League’s top freshman last season, and senior guards Tevin King, Skyler Flatten and Brandon Key return as well. T.J. Otzelberger’s roster has both talent and experience, and with a player like Daum this could be the season in which the Jackrabbits break through and pick up the program’s first Division I NCAA tournament victory.

Western Kentucky

When a star has led a mid-major to an NCAA tournament upset, it’s usually be an upperclassman who’s done the honors with Georgia State sophomore R.J. Hunter (2015) being a notable exception. The Hilltoppers land here because of the presence of a freshman many scouting services pegged as a Top-10 recruit in 6-foot-11 center Charles Bassey. Bassey has the size, athleticism and skill needed to make an immediate impact at WKU, and he’ll need to with forwards Dwight Coleby and Justin Johnson having moved on.

That being said, Rick Stansbury has two really good guards in senior Lamonte Bearden and sophomore Taveion Hollingsworth, with the latter having scored 30 in the Hilltoppers’ Postseason NIT win at Oklahoma State. Add in the likes of sophomore guard Josh Anderson, transfers Desean Murray (Auburn) and Jared Savage (Austin Peay) and Top 100 prospect Dalano Banton, and Western Kentucky has enough in the cupboard to reach the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. And they have the potential to do some damage if they get into the field.

Seth Towns (Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

RETURNING TALENT

Harvard

More than 99 percent of the scoring from last season’s Ivy League regular season champion team is back, and that includes three all-league selections in juniors Seth Towns, Chris Lewis and Justin Bassey. Towns and Lewis combined to average 28.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game last season, with Bassey being part of a perimeter rotation that includes fellow juniors Bryce Aiken and Christian Juzang. Tommy Amaker has a roster that isn’t short on depth, talent or experience, which is why they enter the 2018-19 season as the clear favorite to win the Ivy League. And if the Crimson can successfully navigate the Ancient Eight’s four-team postseason tournament, something they were unable to do last season, look out.

Southern Illinois

All five starters return from a team that won 20 games and finished second in the Missouri Valley last season, led by seniors Armon Fletcher (14.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Sean Lloyd Jr. (12.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Kaivon Pippen (12.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg). The experience stands to serve Southern Illinois well in what projects to be a tighter Valley race than a season ago, which Loyola won by four games.

Two things to keep an eye on regarding the Salukis: what senior center Thik Bol can give them off the bench after missing all of last season due to a knee injury, and how they perform in close games. Ten of SIU’s 18 regular season conference games were decided by six points or less, with the Salukis winning eight. Will that good fortune carry over? Or better yet, can Barry Hinson’s team do enough to cut down on the number of close games it has to play? Either way, this sets up to be a good season for Southern Illinois.

Cal State Fullerton

Dedrique Taylor’s Titans won 20 games and the Big West tournament last season, earning the program’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2008. And with four starters back from that team, Cal State Fullerton may be in line for a return trip. The perimeter tandem of seniors Kyle Allman and Khalil Ahmad is outstanding, with the former being a first team All-Big West selection as a junior after averaging 19.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. As for Ahmad, he earned second team all-conference honors and averaged 15.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Add in junior forward Jackson Rowe (12.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg), and all three double-digit scorers from last season’s NCAA tournament team are back. The NCAA tournament experience for the Titans was a humbling one, as Purdue limited them to 48 points, but that should serve as motivation for this talented squad. Cal State Fullerton has the talent to become the first Big West team to win a Round of 64 NCAA tournament game since Hawaii did so in 2016.

Rider

All five starters are back for Rider, which won 22 games and the MAAC regular season title in 2017-18. But like Harvard, memories of how that season ended (a loss in the MAAC tournament quarters) could serve as fuel for the Broncs in 2018-19. Redshirt sophomore guard/forward Dimencio Vaughn, a first team all-MAAC performer, leads the way after averaging 16.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game with Jordan Allen, Frederick Scott, Stevie Allen and Tyere Marshall all back as well.

Add in grad student Anthony Durham, and Kevin Baggett has his top six scorers from a season ago to work with as Rider looks for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994. Navigating the MAAC tournament has proven difficult for the Broncs since joining the league in 1997, but this could be the group that breaks the run of bad luck. And given the production and experience on this roster, Rider could be a team first round opponents hope to avoid come Selection Sunday.

Lawyer: Evidence shows coaches knew of NCAA family payouts

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NEW YORK (AP) — A lawyer for a longtime Adidas employee urged jurors Thursday to use common sense and evidence to conclude college basketball coaches like Bill Self at Kansas and Rick Pitino at Louisville knew shoe companies were paying money to families of elite athletes to steer them to their schools.

Attorney Michael Schachter, representing Adidas sports marketing manager James “Jim” Gatto, cited testimony and evidence that emerged during the fraud conspiracy trial of Gatto, aspiring sports agent Christopher Dawkins and Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant.

“Ladies and gentlemen, what help do you think a coach thought Jim Gatto was going to provide in persuading a kid to go to their college?” he asked. “Jim works for a shoe company. He is not a guidance counselor. Kids don’t turn to him for assistance in where they should go to college.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Diskant, who has portrayed the schools and sometimes their coaches as victims of the defendants, said in a closing statement that coaches were not “running rampant.”

“Nothing can be further from the truth,” the prosecutor said, highlighting protocols in place at schools to ensure compliance with NCAA rules.

He said the defendants hid payments from coaches, knowing they would be fired if they facilitated payouts to players’ families.

“Does that mean that some of the coaches didn’t break the rules? No, it’s possible they did,” Diskant said.

The prosecutor noted that there was no mention of money in two voice messages Gatto left for Pitino. He also cited evidence that Dawkins, speaking of a financial payout, told the Bowen family: “I would never tell Rick anything like this because I don’t want to put him in jeopardy.”

Schachter told jurors that the government’s star witness — former Adidas consultant Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola — lied when he testified that he was concealing from universities the fact that cash was being paid to the families of top recruits.

He cited Gassnola’s testimony about a North Carolina State assistant coach. Gassnola, who pleaded guilty to criminal charges and cooperated with prosecutors, told jurors that he delivered cash in 2015 to Coach Orlando Early, who planned to give it to a personal trainer for highly touted point guard Dennis Smith Jr. so it could be relayed to the athlete’s family.

Schachter said evidence shows that Self “knew of and asked for a payment to be made to Silvio De Sousa’s handler.”

The lawyer added: “More than that, Coach Self requested just that kind of help that Mr. Gassnola arranged as a condition for Coach Self to permit Adidas to continue their sponsorship agreement with the University of Kansas.”

Schachter also cited a conversation his client had in late May 2017 with Pitino, saying it occurred just after Code told Gatto that he needed money for the family of Louisville recruit Brian Bowen Jr. because the University of Oregon, a Nike school, had made an “astronomical offer” to recruit him.

Schachter said Gatto wanted to be sure Pitino wanted Bowen before he spent his employer’s money.

“Why, precisely, would Louisville’s head coach think that a shoe company representative wants to speak with him about a player?” Schachter asked. “Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that the only explanation that makes any sense is that Coach Pitino knows exactly why Jim is calling to discuss a player.”

Bowen committed to Louisville on June 1, 2017, though he never played for the school. He now plays professionally in Australia. Pitino, a legendary coach, was never accused of a crime but was fired amid the investigation’s fallout.

North Carolina State announced last year that Early and the school’s head coach were leaving the program months before the corruption case became public.

Smith played one year at NC State. He now plays for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

De Sousa is a sophomore at Kansas.

The jury is likely to start deliberations Monday.

Watch list for Malone award released

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It’s watchlist season, y’all.

The latest preseason inventory comes from the Malone Award, given to the country’s top power forward, which features 20 names.

Kentucky has a pair of players with P.J. Washington and Stanford transfer Reid Travis while the mid-major ranks are represented by South Dakota State’s Mike Daum, Northern Kentucky’s Drew McDonald and UNCW’s Devontae Cacok.

Duke freshman sensation Zion Williamson is also on the list as is senior All-American candidates Dean Wade of Kansas State and Luke Maye of North Carolina. SEC player of the year Grant Williams also makes the cut.

“We are privileged to annually present an award bearing the name of Karl Malone, a truly gifted player and an exemplary teammate,” John L. Doleva, President and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “The young men on the watch list for this, and other awards in the Naismith Starting 5, should be extremely proud, and we look forward to watching them compete throughout the upcoming season.”

The list will be cut to 10 in February, then to five and finally awarded to the honoree in April. Players not named in the initial 20 can also work their way into consideration.

Arizona’s Deandre Ayton won last year, Johnathan Motley of Baylor in 2017 and Georges Niang of Iowa State in 2016.

2019 Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award Candidates
Yoeli Childs, BYU
Zion Williamson, Duke
Juwan Morgan, Indiana
Dedric Lawson, Kansas
Dean Wade, Kansas St
Reid Travis, Kentucky
P.J. Washington, Kentucky
Jordan Murphy, Minnesota
Jordan Brown, Nevada
Luke Maye, North Carolina
Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky
Chris Silva, South Carolina
Mike Daum, South Dakota State
Grant Williams, Tennessee
Devontae Cacok, UNCW
Bennie Boatwright, USC
Simisola Shittu, Vanderbilt
Eric Paschall, Villanova
Noah Dickerson, Washington
Sagaba Konate, West Virginia

SEC banking on some veteran stars – even Kentucky

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Kentucky’s PJ Washington says coach John Calipari has “chilled out” at practice leading up to the season.

It doesn’t take as much yelling from coaches when you have a little seasoning and maturity on the roster, qualities that the Wildcats and other top Southeastern Conference teams are banking on to match — or even better — the league’s strong 2017-18 season. Calipari says he hasn’t had to raise his voice yet in practice.

“Last year it was pretty much every day but this year he’s kind of chilled out a little bit,” Washington said Wednesday at SEC media day. “We have experience obviously.”

Seriously? No yelling?

“I’m shocked, too,” Washington said. “He’s usually screaming every five seconds. Now, he’s just stopping practice and trying to teach young guys what to do.”

It helps when they’re not all young guys. Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis , a two-time All-Pac-12 performer, brought a wealth of experience to the lineup.

There are plenty of highly touted freshmen in Lexington and around the league, of course. But a number of standouts returned, too, including reigning SEC player of the year Grant Williams at Tennessee, Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford, Auburn’s Jared Harper, Florida’s Jalen Hudson and LSU’s Tremont Waters.

The SEC proved its back as a basketball power last season, sending a record eight teams to the NCAA Tournament. Optimism abounds again going into this season, with coaches not being shy about trumpeting the league’s strength.

“The league top to bottom has probably never been stronger,” Calipari said. “Top-heavy, too. Crazy.”

Added Mississippi State’s Ben Howland: “I can’t say enough about our league. This league is going to be so good this year. As good as it was last year, this year’s group is going to be even better.”

LSU coach Will Wade said last year there were a number of good teams, and now there are some that can be “elite.”

Plenty of players explored entering the NBA draft after last season but opted to return.

Tennessee and Auburn shared the SEC regular season title and return most of their top players. The Volunteers return all five starters and are led by Williams and senior Admiral Schofield. That experience prompts Howland to proclaim: “There’s no doubt they’re the team to beat in our conference.”

Auburn lost leading scorer Mustapha Heron, who transferred to St. John’s. Harper and Bryce Brown returned while center Austin Wiley and forward Danjel Purifoy are back after being ineligible last season.

“Austin is as big, as strong, as fast and as mobile as any big guy in the country,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, whose team is no longer undersized.

Wiley is recovering from a foot injury that could sideline him early in the season. Purifoy is still ineligible for the first nine games.

The Tigers snapped a 15-year NCAA Tournament drought last season.

Then there’s Kentucky. Washington, Quade Green and Nick Richards are among the returnees.

Travis is the Wildcats’ only preseason first-team All-SEC pick.

The Wildcats are the preseason league favorites — as usual. But teams like Tennessee and Auburn are potential preseason top 10 teams, too.

For all the returning veterans, there’s also a strong wave of incoming talent.

Kentucky brought in the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class with four five-star recruits, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

LSU was ranked No. 4, led by five-star forwards Nazreon Reid and Emmitt Williams, and teams like Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida also had highly rated classes. The Gators (Andrew Nembhard) and Commodores (Darius Garland) both signed five-star point guards.

“I think we have some really good incoming freshmen and I think we have some terrific veterans that have had a big impact on the league,” Calipari said. “The teams that won the league last year have most of their players back.

“We finally have a couple of returning players. It’s been awhile.”

7-foot-2 freshman Brown brings height to Bruins

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — UCLA has its tallest team under coach Steve Alford, and it added another inch after the summer thanks to the continued growth of Moses Brown.

Brown, a 7-foot-2 center from New York, said he grew an inch since his arrival on the UCLA campus. People have noticed, and he’ll be a star attraction in Westwood this season.

“A lot of people want to take pictures of me,” Brown said. “Every time I walk in class, the first person they see is me. The teacher always wants to pick on me, ‘Hey, how tall are you?’ So then I introduce myself in front of the class. It’s pretty cool. You meet a lot of new people.”

And then, of course, there are the people who just take selfies with Brown in the background. He sees them as he’s walking by.

“I pose a lot,” Brown said while flashing a peace sign.

Freshman guard David Singleton made it his personal mission to show Brown the beaches on the West Coast are better than those on the East Coast. Singleton, a 6-foot-4 guard who played at Bishop Montgomery High School in Los Angeles, said they went to the Santa Monica Pier, Huntington Beach, Venice and more in the summer.

“We went to Huntington Beach for Fourth of July and everyone was coming up to us and everyone was breaking their necks,” Singleton said.

Brown, who is wearing No. 1, said the biggest change for him has been his offseason weightlifting program. He’s ready to get his college career started and to try to help UCLA improve from its 21-12 season a year ago.

“I just want to get with all my guys. I want to build a relationship with my teammates,” Brown said. “We have a lot of chemistry.”

Brown weighs 250 pounds and said he’s excited that in college, he gets fed after practice. UCLA will be feeding him the ball when he’s on the court as he will present constant mismatches.

“Moses at 7-2 presents a lot of good problems,” Alford said. “Being 7-2 and length, really runs the floor well and for a guy that big, how he handles the ball and those types of things inside has been very impressive. He gives us a shot-blocker, which, to be honest with you we really haven’t had an elite shot-blocker since we’ve been here. I think he is that.”

His stature is even an eye-opener for his frontcourt teammates.

“I have to break my neck to see Moses, which usually does not happen to me,” said sophomore guard Chris Smith, who is 6-9. “When I stand next to him, to look in his eyes, I have to look up. I’ve never had to do that before.”